Iowa takeaways: Baer-Nunge get in sync, a positive turnover trend, Cook (gasp!) dunks with right hand

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Nicholas Baer and Jack Nunge have been Iowa’s starting forwards in recent games, and it’s an intriguing pairing.

Nunge, a freshman, is essentially a 6-foot-11 version of Baer, a 6-7 junior. They are both equally at home on the perimeter or in the paint. They both have long wingspans that can bother opposing ball-handlers. They both can impact games with their hustle as well as their talent.

Iowa's Nicholas Baer celebrates a basket during the Hawkeyes' game against Indiana at Carver-Hawkeyes Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

They each played 21 minutes in Tuesday’s 92-64 victory over Southern Utah at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

More:Iowa Hawkeyes throttle Southern Utah for third consecutive win

Nunge had nine points and four assists. Baer had a team-high 10 rebounds and a pair of steals.

They were spark plugs in a Hawkeye starting unit that saw its most extensive playing time of the season in each half. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery left his starters in for nearly 7 minutes at the beginning of the game, watching them build a 17-5 lead.

He left the quintet — which also includes Tyler Cook at center and Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss at guards — on the floor for nearly 6 minutes to open the second half, by which time Iowa led 65-41. McCaffery, who likes to use 12 players, typically has a quicker hook with his starters. But not when they’re playing as well as they were Tuesday.

And that brings us back to Baer and Nunge, who were spearheading Iowa’s defensive effort and have developed a teacher-pupil relationship of sorts.

“Nicholas is really good for Jack because if Jack has any hesitation at all, what he’s supposed to do, where he’s supposed to go, Nicholas is telling him. That’s what Nicholas brings,” McCaffery said.

Baer expanded on that.

“Jack’s been great so far. He’s really working. He’s trying to find a rhythm. He’s 6-11, he’s active,” Baer said. “He’s really receptive to feedback. And he’s a good listener on the court. That’s something I really appreciate about him. If I give him a little piece of information or just a little piece of wisdom, he’ll go out and learn.”

Southern Utah's Jacob Calloway is guarded by Iowa's Maishe Dailey, left, and Jack Nunge during their game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017.

Nunge trails only 6-11 center Luka Garza in blocked shots for Iowa, with 15. He’s a strong offensive player, but may be showing his value even more on the defensive end.

“In the zone, Jack’s reading the slides really well. With his length, he’s really effective at contesting shots,” said Baer, who is no slouch in that department either. “He communicates well, so when he’s doing that he really gives us a lot of help on the defensive end.”

Learning to use size advantage

The Hawkeyes are often going to have a height advantage on their opponents. It was particularly true in their past two games, against Drake and Southern Utah.

But being taller doesn’t guarantee success, Garza said.

“It’s hard because those little guys, they get low, they hit you in your knees. It’s hard to get positioning,” he said after scoring 17 points in 19 minutes Tuesday. “It’s sometimes harder playing little guys. So it’s really good to see us continue to post hard. They move quick and they get around those postups. But you see a couple of times we were able to just bury them and finish close to the rim.”

It helped that the Thunderbirds were reluctant to send double-teams at Garza and Cook. They had their way inside as the Hawkeyes had a second consecutive game with a 2-to-1 edge in points in the paint.

Turning away from the turnovers

Iowa committed only 12 turnovers Tuesday. That’s not a startlingly low number but is a vast improvement over the three consecutive games in which the Hawkeyes committed 18 turnovers to begin the month.

Of course, Iowa lost all three of those. The Hawkeyes followed with three straight wins and 33 total turnovers.

“It had to (improve),” McCaffery said. “There was no reason for it. We’ve got a veteran club.

“I have an expectation we’re not going to be throwing the ball all over the building. We had that one stretch in the second half of the Iowa State game (an 84-78 loss) that was nuts. We played great in so many aspects in that game and then we cough a few up and they got the lead on us. We can’t do that.”

Iowa committed 12 turnovers in the second half alone against the Cyclones.

Garza said cutting down those mistakes has been a focal point of recent practices.

“We wanted to stop turning the ball over. Because we’ve lost some games where we turn it over a couple of times and the run turns to 15,” he said.

“Especially live-ball turnovers where they’re running out, getting layups.”

Southern Utah scored only four fast-break points.

Right-hand man

Tyler Cook is right-handed, but he always seems to dunk with his left. Even his teammates have pointed this out to him. It’s become a running joke.

Against Drake on Saturday, Cook charged in for an easy dunk with the ball in his right hand only to switch it to his left just before completing the flush.

Finally, Cook had heard enough. He promised the team he was going to get a right-handed dunk against Southern Utah.

In the first half, he delivered emphatically. Cook grabbed an offensive rebound at the free-throw line and appeared to be content to pass it back out and re-set the offense. Instead, he whirled past three Thunderbirds and hammered home a dunk, pointing to his right hand as he came back down the court and the Hawkeyes on the bench stood and cheered him on.

“I got the rebound out to the free-throw line and they were all on the wrong side so I just took it. I’m like, ‘Here’s my chance,’” Cook said.

Garza, for one, didn’t think Cook was going to deliver on his vow.

“It’s so natural when he goes up with the left. He always goes to the left,” Garza said. “It’s so weird because he’s a right-hander and we’re all celebrating when he makes a right-handed shot.”

Even Peter Jok, last year’s star senior guard now playing professionally, tweeted at Cook after seeing a video of his dunk.

“I hope I get more respect now,” Cook joked.

Dailey's big sequence

Sophomore guard Maishe Dailey continues to carve out a larger role for Iowa, and it is because of moments like the one late in the first half Tuesday. Iowa was leading 44-29 when Dailey got the ball in transition and calmly spotted Bohannon in the left corner. Bohannon sank a 3-pointer for his only points of the game.

Seconds later, the roles were reversed. Bohannon fed Dailey in the right corner and he buried a 3-pointer. Suddenly, Iowa had a 50-29 lead and the Thunderbirds never again got closer than 20 points.

Dailey finished with eight points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal in 18 minutes. A bit player a year ago, he’s firmly in the rotation now.

“That was a big stretch in the game, because you get it to 14, 15, does it go to nine or does it go to 20?” McCaffery said. “And it went to 20.”

Thanks to Dailey.